The Right to Think! by Tony Cooke

The Right to Think! by Tony Cooke

New Testament leaders such as Jesus and Paul wanted believers to be thinkers.  Specifically, they wanted them to think through issues scripturally.  Paul did not say we were to be transformed by the removing of our minds, but by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2)! In Isaiah 1:18, God said, “…let us reason together.”  Reasoning is a good thing as long as we’re reasoning with God, not against Him!
When Paul preached in Berea, Luke noted (Acts 17:11), “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” Notice that these believers were not condemned for checking things out against the Scripture, but they were commended for it.

When Luke said they “searched” the Scriptures daily, that is not a reference to a casual glance.  That word means, to investigate, examine, judge, interrogate, inquire into, scrutinize, sift, and to question.  In other words, they were truly diligent students of the Word of God.  They weren’t mean-spirited about it, but they valued truth based on Scripture.  When Luke described these believers as “fair-minded,” he was using a term of honor that meant they were well-born or noble-minded.

In contrast, this reminds me of a minister I heard more than a decade ago who was introducing a supposed “new revelation.” As he spoke, it was apparent that he was defensive of his doctrine, and in presenting it, he portrayed anyone who would question his teaching as being religious like the Pharisees.  His line of self-protective thought was essentially that, “Religious spirits have always opposed and persecuted new truth.  People persecuted Jesus and Paul, and they’re probably going to persecute me.”

There was no middle ground in his presentation.  Either you embraced his teaching because he claimed that God had revealed it to him, or you were a Pharisee being motivated by a religious spirit.  There was no encouragement for people to evaluate his teaching against Scripture, and to think for oneself was not an option (at least not one that he presented).
Great ministers want people to be more committed to Scriptural truth than to human personalities or human approval!  Howard Hendricks said, “When you see me stop following Christ, stop following me.”

Peer Pressure The pressure to compromise one’s inner-convictions and conform in order to be accepted by a group can be very strong.  A very sad Scripture illustrating this is found in John 12:42-43.  The Apostle said, “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him [Jesus], but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”
One of my favorite characters in the New Testament is Barnabas.  He was truly a good man!  I admire the fact that he was an encourager, and was always pulling for the underdog.  

  • His generous spirit encouraged the apostles (Acts 4:36-37).  
  • He believed in Paul when nobody else did (Acts 9:26-27).
  • When many were skeptical of the conversion of the Gentiles, he saw the grace of God in their lives and encouraged them (Acts 11:22-23).
  • When Paul refused to give Mark a second chance, Barnabas took the young man under his wings, restored him, and helped cultivate him into a great minister (Acts 15:37-39).

However, in spite of Barnabas’ great character, there was a time when he (and Peter) got off-track, and peer pressure was a factor.  Paul said (Galatians 2:11-13): “Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.”
The Phillips Translation of verse 13 says, “…the force of their bad example was so great that even Barnabas was infected by it.”  We often think that peer pressure is an issue that only teen-agers face, but Barnabas might well have attempted (at least initially) to justify his gaffe by saying, “But everybody’s doing it, even Peter!

This situation illustrates the truth that our sense of discernment must go beyond whether someone is a good person.  Jessie Penn-Lewis wrote in the early twentieth century: “Every believer must test all teachers today for himself, by the Word of God and their attitude toward the atoning work of Christ, and other fundamental truths of the Gospel, and not be misled into testing ‘teaching’ by the character of the teacher.  Good men can be deceived, and Satan needs good men to float his lies under the guise of truth.”

As a believer and as a leader, there are times in my life when I am going to have to decide:

  • Am I going to stand on principle or yield to peer pressure?
  • Am I going to conform to group expectations or make a stand based on conscience?
  • Am I going to place human acceptance and approval above faithfulness to Scripture?

Mob Mentality In Acts 19, the silversmiths in Ephesus were successful in stirring up a large number of people, but the description of their gathering is most interesting.  Acts 19:32 says, “…for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together.”  The Message version renders this, “Most of them had no idea what was going on or why they were there.”
Believers must be thinkers!  We can’t blindly follow something just because it’s the proverbial “flavor of the month.”  When we hear things, even from good people, we need to be like the Bereans and search the Scriptures.  Because we value truth, we’ll make sure that what we embrace lines up with both the consensus and the spirit of the Scripture. We won’t allow ourselves to be pressured to accept something without reasonable support and solid precedent from the New Testament, and we won’t be moved by “proof texts” that are wrenched out of their context.  Then, as we cling to truth with clear convictions, may we also courageously and confidently stand on those convictions.